BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Baton Rouge triathlete has clenched the coveted title of Ironman Champion.
Jessica Demello beat out nearly 3,000 competitors who traveled to Panama City, Florida for the November 7th race.
It was a combination of a solid support system and six years of hard work, she said, that carried her to the finish.
On Wednesday, the moon had not even set before Coach Nan Fontenot walked the pool deck at Crawfish Aquatics calling the morning swim sets.
About a dozen swimmers sprinted across the pool to complete a series of drills. Swimming among a class of determined athletes was Jessica Demello, 31.
"The hardest part is getting in, and once you get in and swim that first lap, it's like, oh I've got this," says Demello.
Demello has gone the distance. The competitive triathlete swims anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 yards a week working on technique, time, and strength.
"It feels good. I like getting my day started early."
It is one of three sports Demello has mastered.
As day broke, Demello cruised through her bike training routine.
"I grew up swimming and running and playing soccer," says Demello."But I have never rode a bike competitively."
Demello has come a long way since her first triathlon six years ago. A sport that involves swimming, biking, and running. She said a co-worker at Varsity Sports encouraged her to sign up.
"I did it with platform pedals and running shoes on the bike, took my time, and didn't know about speed laces and all the tricks there are to cut transition in half."
She was hooked, and on course for a series of races across the state. The very next year she registered for a Half Ironman in New Orleans. That involves 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles on the bike, and 13.1 miles of running.
"It was more about the distance and not the competition because I wasn't sure what I was doing but I knew if I could do the distance in my training I could do the distance in the race," says Demello.
Demello trained harder and competed in full Ironman triathlons across the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The races consist of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, then running 26.2 miles.
"The biggest thing about Ironman is overcoming adversity," says Demello.
The triathlete would soon learn there was something bigger waiting in Panama City. On November 7, Demello would first have to endure 140.6 miles to the Ironman Florida finish line.
"I had high expectations of myself during this race and my biggest fear was that I wouldn't satisfy my expectations."
Not only did Demello beat her personal record, she dominated the competition to become the first female to cross the finish line.
"It was pretty surreal. The emotions at the end of the race were so high, but it was definitely a moment at that I knew I would never forget."
Her fast finish has earned her a spot to compete next year in the Ironman World Championship competition in Kona, Hawaii.
Demello credits her success to her coach at 4th Dimension Fitness, Will Jones. Also, her family and friends who have encouraged her along the way. The champion triathlete said she is also fueled by strangers who have said she inspired them to train.
"There was one day when I said I would never run a marathon, much less do an Ironman," says Demello
Demello has covered hundreds of miles in her journey. There have no doubt been many challenges and disappointments along the way. But she has learned to embrace those experiences and keep her eyes on the horizon never losing sight of what is winning is really about.
"The satisfaction that you get from achieving those goals within yourself is really what makes it all worth it."
The Ironman World Championship will be held in Kona, Hawaii on October 8, 2016.